Leah H Smith Strothman Mott

Leah Mott is not a relative.  She was murdered by her husband in 1903.  I have presented her character at our local cemetery’s Stories and Stones event. 

Leah Smith was born in 1861 in Iowa, the daughter of Joseph Smith and Adelaide E Smith.  She had eight brothers and sisters.  In 1870, the Smith family lived in Pleasant Grove, Iowa.  Joseph was a farmer, and his farm was valued at $2500, with $580 worth of personal property.  That was about average size for that neighborhood.

On 6 February 1877, in Des Moines county, Leah married William Strothman, son of Henry and Christiana Strothman, Prussian immigrants.  Leah’s son Henry L was born 22 May 1877 in Mount Pleasant, Oscar was born 13 December 1880.  William and Leah lived with his parents in 1880, and he worked as a farm laborer.

Leah’s marriage ended in divorce.  Leah went west, and was counted with her two sons Henry and Oscar in the 1885 Washington State census, living in Whitman, in Walla Walla county.

On 17 November 1888, in Seattle, Leah married Louis H Mott.  The marriage record doesn’t indicate Leah’s prior marital status, and she is listed as Mrs. Leah H Smith (her maiden name.)

Louis Henry Mott was born about 1856.  He was orphaned at an early age, and in the 1860 census, was living with his grandmother Mary, and other family members including his uncle Lemoine.  The 1860 census says he was born in Maryland.  In 1870, Louis lived with his uncle, who had adopted him, in the town of Des Moines, Iowa, and that record gave his birthplace as Indiana.  The 1880 census lists Luis H Mott living on Webster Street, employed at a laundry, and born in Mississippi.  The 1882 list of voters in San Francisco includes Lewis Henry Mott, age 26, born in Mississippi living at 1521 Eddy, occupation Laundry.  Louis also was in charge of the laundry department for the Park Transportation company in Yellowstone National Park for several years, but I don’t know if this was before or after his marriage to Leah.

Leah and Louis moved to Missoula MT, where they operated a laundry.  Leah had two more children born in Montana:  Alice F born May 1893 and Ethel born in October 1898.  The family moved back and forth between Spokane and Missoula.  In 1900, they lived at 1117 Maple in Spokane, and Louis continued his work as a laundryman.  Leah’s son Oscar was still in the household, and son William was newly married to Emma Swenson.  The family even had a live-in servant.  This record says that Leah has had four children, who are all still living.

The family moved back to Missoula, and operated the Troy Steam Laundry.  This seems to have been a chain of laundries, and promotional material of the era (from a Troy Laundry in another town) says that  “the establishment is thoroughly equipped with the most approved laundering machinery, wash, drying, and ironing rooms, and the facilities are the best for turning out the finest class of work.  Work is done here without the use of chemicals that rot and destroy goods of find texture.”

However, all was not well with the family.  Louis had a “nervous disorder”, which was made worse by his heavy drinking and use of morphine.  Leah tried unsuccessfully to have him hospitalized.  The laundry was in Leah’s name, with a $1400 mortgage.  Louis left the household and went to Mandan, North Dakota.  In his absence, Leah sold the laundry to Jones Brothers of Spokane.  When Louis returned, he was very angry about the sale of the laundry.  He complained that he had gone to North Dakota, and had successfully obtained money to invest in the business, and now Leah had ruined his business opportunities by selling the laundry.   But others said he had fled there to avoid creditors.

On Sunday, 4 January 1903, the family had their noon meal at their home above the laundry.  The group included the new owners of the laundry and their cook. After the meal, Louis had continued to complain about the sale of the laundry.  He sent their two daughters to another room.  Leah decided to leave the house, and as she went down the steps, Louis shot her four times in the back.  She fell to the bottom of the stairs.  Two policemen were nearby, and came to the scene, where they took Louis into custody and removed him to the jail.  Leah was taken to the hospital.  She was interviewed and named her husband as her attacker, saying that he was under the influence of drugs and liquor.  Leah died a few hours later, and was buried at the Missoula city cemetery.

Louis Mott stood trial for the murder.  His attorneys attempted to use a defense of mental illness, but Louis refused to cooperate with that defense, and he was convicted and sentenced to death.  After appeals, he was executed by hanging, on 18 March 1904.  Sheriff Harry Thompson conducted the hanging.  A temporary stockade was erected at the rear of the jail to keep people from watching.  The gallows was described as a gruesome-looking instrument of death, painted black.  After the hanging, Sheriff Thompson burned the rope to discourage souvenir hunters.

Louis had requested to be buried next to Leah, but her son Henry protested, and Louis was buried elsewhere at the city cemetery.

Leah’s son Henry Strothman had married Emma Swenson, and they had a son William J born 12 May 1917 in Spokane.  Henry worked as a locomotive engineer. He died 8 December 1918 in Spokane and was buried next to his mother in Missoula.  Emma did not remarry.  She died in 1969 and is buried with Henry and Leah.  The plot includes day-old Alice Strothman, perhaps young William’s daughter.

Oscar was living with Leah in 1900.  The news stories of the time name her two sons as Henry and John, so perhaps that was Oscar’s middle name or nickname.  The 1904 Missoula city directory lists John Strothman at the Troy Steam Laundry.  I have not found further records for him.

Alice went to live with Leah’s sister Anne Cardwell, and is with her in the 1910 census in Denver.  I have no more records for her.

The newspapers mention the youngest daughter, and that before Leah died, she requested that the baby be sent back to Iowa to live with relatives.  I have no more records for Ethel after the 1900 census, and news stories from 1903.


1870 census of Pleasant Grove, Iowa (Leah with parents and siblings)

1877 marriage record for Leah and William Strothman (FamilySearch)

1880 census of Franklin, Iowa (Leah, William, Henry)

1885 Washington Territorial Census (Whitman) Leah, Henry, and Oscar

1888 Washington marriage records Louis and Leah

1900 census of Spokane WA (Louis, Leah, Alice, Ethel, and Oscar

1900 census of Spokane WA (Henry and Emma)

1900 marriage records of Montana (FamilySearch) Henry L and Emma

The Missoulian January 6, 1903 – the murder story

The Missoulian March 18, 1904 – the execution story

1903/1904 Missoula/Ravalli directory Leah Mott’s death

Missoula County Sheriffs book p 25 – Harry W Thompson

1905 Missoula directory (Henry L at 316 N 1st W with Herbert Crego)

www.fargo-history.com Troy Team Laundry

1910 census of Whitman (Henry L and Emma)

1910 census of Denver (Alice with Aunt Anne Caldwell)

WW1 Draft Registration – Henry Strothman

Missoula Cemetery Interment Permits 203 (Leah) and 337 (Louis)

Missoula Cemetery Index (Leah, Louis, Henry, Emma, Alice)

1920 census Missoula (Emma and William J Strothman)

1930 census Missoula (Emma)

Montana Death Index (Emma, William J Strothman)




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